How Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney used their celebrity to achieve the impossible
For those not familiar with the FX documentary, “Welcome to Wrexham”, two famous actors (Reynolds and McElhenney) bought a football (soccer) club for $2.5m in North Wales – Wrexham A.F.C.
Complete underdogs at the start and after two years since Reynolds and McElhenney purchased the team, they clinched a 3-1 victory on their home field granting them promotion to the next tier of England’s soccer pyramid (League Two).
The team has not played that high up in the English soccer system since 2008.
Over a random series of events, McElhenney got hooked on English football through a British writer on his set, which spurred a ridiculous chain of events. Upon realizing he only had “tv money”, he asked fellow actor Ryan Reynolds who notoriously has made money through his investment portfolio to invest. Reynolds instead asked to join McElhenney in purchasing the club.
At that point, the two had never met in person.
Who are Wrexham A.F.C.?
Among the clubs McElhenney could afford with his “tv money” – which weren’t many – Wrexham stood out for two reasons: they retained a loyal and passionate fanbase still turning out for National League games in their thousands; and they served a giant catchment area without a major club for miles in any direction.
On a trustee vote, the pair won the overwhelming majority vote (98.5%) to allow them to purchase the team. The rest as they say is history, although there is still a long way to go. “We say this all the time, but we want to be in the Premier League, as crazy as that sounds to some people,” Reynolds told ESPN in January.
“If it is theoretically possible to go from the fifth tier in professional football all the way to the Premier League, why wouldn’t we do that?” Reynolds said. “Why wouldn’t we use our last drop of blood to get there?”
It might not require blood, just a bit more star power
The trajectory of Wrexham A.F.C. is no different to the trajectory of many successful celebrity brands – they can achieve the impossible because they have additional ‘capital’ to spend.
Here are the Top 5 things they have in common:
- Network & Friends in High Places: With Reynolds and McElhenney at the helm, they managed to secure the football team a shirt sponsorship deal worth 10x what the existing shirt sponsor was paying replacing little known Ifor Williams Trailers with global brand TikTok.
Unsurprisingly, Reynolds joined the social media platform shortly after the deal was announced – not a coincidence.
2. They Show Up: Like many previous posts have outlined, a significant deciding factor on whether a celebrity brand works or not is the actual work put in by the celebrity in question. Not only did both Reynolds and McElhenney show up (which they did – to the games, to press appearances, etc), they actively worked to build awareness of the club through their existing activities.
It is rare to see either actor not sporting one of the team’s merchandise in public.
3. They Use Their Talent Wisely: What they don’t know about sport, they make up for in storytelling, which they use to their advantage – securing FX documentary ‘Welcome to Wrexham’.
The show has 8.4 times the demand of the average TV series in the United States with a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
4. They Draw a Crowd with Intention: One key contributing factor to why celebrity brands work better than ones without a celebrity is awareness, which is key in a crowded marketplace.
One social media post isn’t going to cut it.
Reynolds and McElhenney intentionally create a fan fare each time they visit the club and rope in their wider network of celebrity friends to help amplify the noise. Their shamelessness (aka strategy) knows no bounds – they even managed to get The King and Queen Consort to walk the field on December 9th, 2022.
5. When All Else Fails, They Have Money: In our last newsletter, we outlined how Ariana Grande proved this point with her purchase of REM Beauty when the parent company Forma went bankrupt. But it’s worth mentioning again that celebrity founders who are involved significantly de-risk an investment because they can support the brand – or in this case, the team.
Promotion of Wrexham A.F.C. to League Two has a number of financial benefits, but also a much higher price tag. Not bad timing with Reynolds making $300m from Mint Mobile, which was recently acquired by T-Mobile.
With so many celebrity brands failing, it can sometimes look like there is no playbook. However, some very simple actions by the celebrity founder in question can catapult a brand from the unknown into a household name in less than 2 years – as Ryan Reynolds has once again proven.
It’s not just a coincidence. It’s a strategy.